Category Archives: Alabama

Conecuh National Forest

Conecuh National Forest

Alabama

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

171,177acres (83,852 federal/ 87,325 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/alabama

Overview

In southern Alabama, Conecuh National Forest was created in 1936 from clearcut and burned-over lands that were replanted with fast-growing slash pine.  Reforestation efforts today focus on native longleaf pine trees that provide habitat for endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers.  The topography of these coastal plain forests is fairly flat with broad ridges flanked by bottomlands and floodplains.  Conecuh National Forest is primarily developed at two Recreation Areas: Open Pond and Blue Lake.

Highlights

Open Pond Recreation Area, Buck Pond, Blue Spring, Open Pond Fire Tower, Yellow River Basin, Blue Lake Recreation Area, Lake Shore Trail, Conecuh National Recreation Trail

Must-Do Activity

Open Pond Recreation Area (fee) surrounds a 30-acre natural sinkhole lake and has a campground, boat ramps, and a historic 1938 fire tower.  Located only a ten-minute drive away, Blue Lake Recreation Area (fee) offers a day-use picnic area and swimming beach (the only place in the National Forest where swimming is allowed, presumably due to the presence of alligators elsewhere).

Best Trail

The 20-mile long Conecuh Trail was built by the Youth Conservation Corps beginning in 1976 and traverses longleaf pine stands and hardwood bottomlands.  Leaving from Open Pond Recreation Area, the seven-mile long South Loop of the Conecuh Trail passes Blue Spring, but that portion of the trail was closed due to hurricane damage during our visit. 

Watchable Wildlife

Notable wildlife species that inhabit Conecuh National Forest include red-cockaded woodpeckers (see above), wild turkeys, fox squirrels, raccoons, red foxes, gray foxes, bobcats, coyotes, black bears, and alligators.  Fishing is a popular activity, with interesting spiky PVC pipe constructions put in the water to provide habitat for bream, bass, and crappie.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Watch for carnivorous pitcher plants growing in the wet soils on the edge of bogs and baldcypress ponds.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

There is a day use fee at both Open Pond and Blue Lake Recreation Areas, but an America the Beautiful pass can be substituted.

Road Conditions

Many of the roads in Conecuh National Forest are unpaved, but the sand packs down well and provides a good surface for any vehicle to drive.

Camping

Open Pond Campground contains 75 campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Wilderness Areas

None

Related Sites

Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida-Mississippi)

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park (Alabama)

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (Alabama)

Nearest National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

Conifer Tree Species

baldcypress, longleaf pine, slash pine

Flowering Tree Species

American holly, flowering dogwood, southern magnolia, swamp tupelo, pumpkin ash, swamp cottonwood, overcup oak, swamp chestnut oak, cherryark oak

Explore More – Believed to be of Muskogee origin, what does the name “Conecuh” translate as?

Learn more about this and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

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Freedom Riders National Monument

Overview

On May 4, 1961, an interracial group of “Freedom Riders” boarded two buses in Washington, D.C. bound for New Orleans to test whether southern bus stations were following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended segregation in interstate travel.  On Sunday, May 14, the Greyhound bus was met by an angry mob in Anniston, Alabama that broke windows and slashed tires.  Eventually police officers cleared a path for the bus, but it was forced to stop just five miles outside town where a bundle of flaming rags caused an explosion and fire inside the vehicle.  Everyone escaped the bus although there were attempts to trap the seven Freedom Riders on board.  Joseph Postiglione’s iconic photo of the burning bus appeared in newspapers across the country, encouraging more Freedom Riders and changes to laws.

Highlights

Greyhound bus depot, Trailways bus station, site of bus burning

Must-Do Activity

President Obama established Freedom Riders National Monument in 2017, so the park is still under development, but they do already have an outstanding Junior Ranger program.  The National Park Service (NPS) has temporary displays inside its visitor center in the historic Anniston bus station and outside is a beautiful mural of a Greyhound bus and an audio recounting of the 1961 events by Hank Thomas, a survivor.  Down the road on Highway 202, the bus burning site is currently just an informational display in a field.  We were there for the 60th anniversary events, when 400 luminaria were placed to represent the total number of Freedom Riders.  Several other murals can be found around Anniston, including a second Tramways bus at Noble and 9th Street with Charles Person’s audio description of events that took place that same day. We also recommend the excellent Freedom Rides Museum (admission charged) in Montgomery, Alabama, where similar violence took place on May 20, 1961.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

In the alley next to the NPS visitor center, in front of the life-sized mural of a 1961 Greyhound bus is a lamp dedicated in August 2013 to the bravery of the Freedom Riders.

Peak Season

Spring

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/frri/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Street parking is free outside the NPS visitor center.  To access the bus burning site, be sure to park off Old Birmingham Highway and not along the busy Highway 202 shoulder.

Camping

South of Interstate 20, campgrounds can be found in Cheaha State Park and Talladega National Forest, which also provides dispersed camping and great backpacking opportunities.

Related Sites

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument (Alabama)

Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historical Park (Georgia)

Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument (Mississippi)

Explore More – Who was the future U.S. Congressman who took part in the 1961 Freedom Rides?

Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail

Overview

Not as well-known as the parkway it parallels, Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail is one of only three National Scenic Trails officially managed by the National Park Service (NPS).  The trace (or trail) started as an American Indian footpath.  Some of the mound builder sites protected here were inhabited when Hernando de Soto led the first Europeans into this area in 1540.  The Natchez Trace was heavily used in the 1800s by “Kaintuck” flatboatmen returning from New Orleans who left the Mississippi River from Natchez, Mississippi and continued on foot north to Nashville, Tennessee.  Today you can follow portions of the “sunken” trail worn down by travelers for centuries.

Highlights

Rocky Springs, Owens Creek Waterfall, Tupelo-Baldcypress Swamp, Grindstone Ford, Witch Dance Horse Trail, War of 1812 Memorial

Must-Do Activity

The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail does not follow the entire 444-mile parkway, but exists in five segments totaling 67 miles in length.  The two longest sections are near Leipers Fork, Tennessee (Miles 408-427) and north of Jackson, Mississippi (Miles 108-130).  There are many other places to go hiking along the Natchez Trace Parkway, including one of our favorite spots, Tishomingo State Park (Mile 304) in Mississippi.  Near Tupelo, the Parkway Visitor Center at Mile 266 is another must-do stop to learn the history of the trace.

Best Trail

There are eight miles of the original trail around the Rocky Springs Campground near Mile 58 in Mississippi, which provides access to Owens Creek Waterfall and a historic town site.

Instagram-worthy Photo

In early April the dogwood trees bloom along the Natchez Trace.  At Mile 275 is Dogwood Valley, which also has a short section of “sunken” historic trail.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/natt/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The entire 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway is paved from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, but not all trailheads are RV accessible.

Camping

There are three NPS campgrounds along the route, as well as those in sites like Mississippi’s Tishomingo State Park.  The three NPS campgrounds are primitive and free, plus there are also five bike-only campsites along the route.

Related Sites

Tupelo National Battlefield (Mississippi)

Natchez National Historical Park (Mississippi)

Vicksburg National Military Park (Mississippi)

Explore More – The Natchez Trace Parkway officially joined the NPS system in 1938, but when was construction of the road finally completed?

Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site

Overview

This historic college for African Americans is also the final resting place for pioneering staff members Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.  In 1881, a 25-year-old Washington moved to an abandoned plantation in Alabama to found the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute with a $2,000 appropriation from the state.  From its initial enrollment of 30 students, Tuskegee has grown and continues to be an active and prominent university today.

Highlights

Historic campus, George Washington Carver Museum, Tuskegee Chapel, The Oaks

Must-Do Activity

Since only eight of the 58 acres dedicated to this National Historic Site are owned by the National Park Service (NPS) on this active college campus, it behooves you to call ahead to schedule your visit.  Guided tours are available of the university and The Oaks, the historic Washington family home that was built by students.  At least make sure the excellent George Washington Carver Museum is open when you visit.  At the beginning of World War II, the school was selected to train African-American pilots, which is detailed at the nearby Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, also managed by the NPS.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The sculpture of Booker T. Washington lifting the veil of ignorance from a slave was completed by Charles Keck in 1922.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/tuin/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but there is limited parking on campus for tourists.

Camping

Chewacla State Park is located northeast of town and primitive camping is allowed in Tuskegee National Forest (the smallest U.S. National Forest at 11,252 acres).

Related Sites

Booker T. Washington National Monument (Virginia)

George Washington Carver National Monument (Missouri)

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (Alabama)

Explore More – How many bricks were made and laid by Tuskegee students to build the original chapel in 1896-98?

Little River Canyon National Preserve

Overview

Authorized in 1992, Little River Canyon National Preserve covers about 14,000 acres in northeast Alabama.  Elevations range from 1,900-foot tall Lookout Mountain down to 650-foot Weiss Lake reservoir, as the Little River plunges from the Cumberland Plateau.  With cliffs up to 600 feet in height, this unique gorge contains several endemic species of plants and animals.  Only the southern half of the preserve is readily accessible by roads, with DeSoto State Park offering the best way to see the northern section.

Highlights

Little River Falls, Canyon Mouth, Graces High Falls

Must-Do Activity

Start your visit at the Little River Canyon Center on Highway 35, then make the short drive to the parking area for 45-foot tall Little River Falls.  From there, drive Highway 176 for 11 miles along the west side of the canyon, which has nine scenic overlooks, including one for seasonal Graces High Falls.

Best Trail

There are a few short trails in the preserve, many of which drop steeply from the rim to the riverside.  At the southern end near the intersection of Highways 273 and 275 is Canyon Mouth, a flat trail that follows alongside the Little River.  There is better hiking and even more waterfalls in nearby DeSoto State Park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Graces High Falls is 133 feet tall, making it the tallest (aboveground) waterfall in Alabama, but it only flows in the spring and after large rain events.

Peak Season

Spring

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/liri/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None except at Canyon Mouth ($15 per day or America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

De Soto State Park offers camping, in addition to excellent hiking trails to several waterfalls.  There are also three backcountry campsites in Little River Canyon National Preserve available from February through September with a permit.

Related Sites

Russell Cave National Monument (Alabama)

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park (Alabama)

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (Alabama)

Explore More – How many endemic species of caddisflies are found in Little River Canyon and nowhere else on Earth?